FRISCO, Texas – Back to practice Wednesday for the Cowboys.
Think about this: The Cowboys haven't had but one normal week of practice since preparing for the Pittsburgh game. So if you're scoring at home, the Cowboys' practice here at The Star on Wednesday is only their fifth practice in 25 days.
Blame it on 2020.
More specifically, the Cowboys had a bye after the Pittsburgh game, and remember, because the Steelers backup tight end Vance McDonald tested positive for COVID-19 the Monday after the game, the Cowboys had to take off Tuesday and Wednesday of the bye week, that cancelling the scheduled Wednesday practice before the players had their required four consecutive days off.
That then got them into the week preparing for the Minnesota game. Normal week. Three whole practices.
Had a normal non-practice on Monday following the win over the Vikings, then on Tuesday strength and conditioning coach Markus Paul suffered his medical emergency. Head coach Mike McCarthy called it a day after the morning team meetings. The Cowboys returned to practice on Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, the day Paul passed away. Played Washington on Thursday.
And since the Cowboys were scheduled to play Baltimore the following Thursday, there was no practice on Friday. Then the game was postponed to Monday and then Tuesday. Plus, the NFL mandated that teams close their facilities on Monday and Tuesday of this week out of an abundance of caution, knowing players would have been around family and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday.
That brought us to Dec. 2, when after so much time off, McCarthy constructed an easier practice since the team was coming off just one practice and the Thanksgiving game over the previous nine days.
"The fact that we were able to have the time to reflect, regardless of what the schedule was, whether we are playing on Thursday or Sunday, (Thursday) was always aligned to be with the family," McCarthy said. "Definitely helps us from that perspective, no doubt."
Oh, and here is something that doesn't normally happen during a week: With Baltimore playing the afternoon game at Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the Cowboys got their meetings, field work and film work in, and then had the players, while in their position meetings, actually watch the game starting at 2:30 p.m.
"So we'll be spaced out," McCarthy said.
And this twice postponed game also will give the Cowboys, as a team, the ability to virtually participate in the Thursday morning memorial service for Markus Paul, watching from their Ford Center meeting spaces.
"We'll have just a little bit of football, but (Thursday) will be devoted to Markus Paul," McCarthy said.
As it should be.
- Still Not Normal: Now don't think normalcy will return next week, right? The Cowboys – we think, since you never know with the COVID-19 problems the Ravens are experiencing – not only will play the game in Baltimore Tuesday night, but the NFL seems steadfast on the Cowboys now having to play Cincinnati the following Sunday, Dec. 13. Which means little rest between games, especially if you consider the Cowboys likely won't get back to DFW until like 3 a.m. on Wednesday. So really they will have just two days to prepare for the Sunday game. "It's really the new normal," McCarthy said of another jumbled schedule. And then how about this: The Ravens, the cause of these repeated postponements, well, they don't have to play until the following Monday night while the Cowboys will have to play two games in six days. No rest for the weary. But as center Joe Looney says, "It's 2020. What is normal right now? We all are rolling with these punches, and making sure we're going out there, putting the best ball out there and trying to win games at the end of the day. That's what it boils down to."
- Bubble Talk: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during halftime of the Wednesday afternoon game the league is not considering a playoff bubble for the qualifying teams "because we think our protocols are working." But he did add, "We would consider further isolations to reduce the risk of all of our personnel so they are not exposed to the virus and bring it in to the facility." To me, that means the individual teams creating their own bubble, similar to what the Cowboys put together during training camp.
- Pat On Back: Not sure we all knew about this little-known award, but Cowboys safety Donovan Wilson won the Week 11 #NFL Way To Play Football award for using the proper tackling technique in the Minnesota game to bring down Vikings running back Dalvin Cook and force a fumble. He didn't hit a defenseless receiver and made the tackle at waist level. For that he received a $2,500 grant to be given to the youth team of his choice.
- Just Maybe: The Cowboys' loss to Washington certainly greatly reduced the team's chances of winning the NFC East. But again, at 3-8, they are only one game behind Washington and the Giants (4-7) and a half-game behind (3-7-1) Philadelphia. Then there is this: The Giants next five games are at Seattle, Arizona, Cleveland, at Baltimore, Cowboys. Washington faces at Pittsburgh, at San Francisco, Seattle, Carolina and Philly. And as for the Eagles, it's at Green Bay, New Orleans, at Arizona, at Cowboys and Washington. There are losses in there for sure. The bigger problem for the Cowboys, though, with that battered offensive line, are there any wins out there for them facing Baltimore, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Philly and the Giants?
- Postponed Shots: Fox Sports reports 30.3 million watched Cowboys-Washington on Thanksgiving Day, making it this year's most watch NFL telecast for 2020 and the single most-watched television broadcast since Super Bowl LIV in February … Folks keep asking what's the Cowboys' biggest problems. Here are the most glaring: ranked 32nd in run defense, giving up 156.4 yards a game; ranked 31st in turnover differential (minus-13); 31st with only 10 takeaways; 31st with 23 giveaways; and 32nd in points given up at 32.6 a game.
And the last word goes to Leighton Vander Esch, who spent the whole of the offseason with Cowboys strength and conditioning coach Markus Paul while rehabbing from neck surgery: "When you lose a brother of your team and coaching staff, a father figure to a lot of the guys, that takes a toll on you. I know it's still taking a toll on a lot of us. He's an amazing dude, and I'm going to miss him in here every single day. I'm just going to continue to keep praying for his family and praying for him and just knowing that he's in a good place now. Yeah, it's been a struggle, but we're all here for him and we're all here for his family, the strength coaches that work with him every day. It was a rough way to start the week."